Budo Sansho

What is budo sansho ?


Japanese Spice, Sansho (Japanese pepper)

The proverb goes, “Sansho has small grains, but still packs a peppery punch,” meaning that even something small can be strong willed or have great power. Sansho is given as a metaphor to warn against underestimating people; but literally, even though sansho has small grains, if you add just a little bit, it can bring out the colors and enhance a dish.

Sansho is a deciduous tree originating in Japan, and is a plant from the same family of citrus that mandarin oranges and yuzu belong to. It is thought that sansho has been consumed since the Jomon period (10,000 BCE–300 BCE), as traces of seeds were discovered inside earthenware from that time. Hajikami, the former name of sansho, was recorded in the Kojiki (712; Records of Ancient Matters), in a passage that can be translated as, “the hajikami that grows below the fence makes the mouth go numb.”

Sansho, long used as a medicine and spice, is still put to use in modern times—the shoots and young leaves as a Japanese herb, and the fruit in Japanese spice. One of the charms of sansho surely is in the enjoyment of seeing it change form along with the changing seasons.

  • After MIzansho (green sansho berries) select harvesting
  • Dried sansho
  • Konazansho (Powdered sansho)

Hazansho (sansho leaves) ── the shoots and young leaves are utilized from spring through early summer.
Known as kinome (lit. “shoots from the tree”), it is added as a garnish, and to delight in the colors and aromas that are enhanced in soups. Relish in the season with kinomeae (kinome and bamboo shoots) and takenokogohan (bamboo-shoot rice) dishes, in which sansho is arranged with bamboo shoots that sprout at the same time of year.

Hanazansho (sansho flowers) ── these treasured flowers can be gathered over only a few days at the beginning of May. Small, yellow flowers bud.
It is mostly male flowers that are commonly distributed, rather than female flowers which bear fruit. Both types of flowers are characterized by an elegant and gentle aroma and a pleasantly moderate numbing trait, and are used in dishes such as tsukudani (food boiled and preserved in soy sauce), vinegared dishes, and shabu shabu.
*Kasho, or howajyao, used in mapo tofu (a Sichuan-style tofu dish) and similar dishes is made from Sichuan peppercorn. This is a different variety of spice from hanazansho.

Mizansho (green sansho berries) ── the fresh, yellowish-green colored fruit is utilized in early summer.
The arrival of the berries in stores brings the feeling that the beginning of summer has come. It is added a flavorsome accent, or to remove odors in fish and meat dishes, including chirimen sansho, where it is simmered with chirimenjyako (dried young sardines).

Dried sansho ── this is the dried mizansho fruit, or peppercorns. It is also ground finely and made into powdered sansho.
Powdered sansho is found in a variety of dishes like kabayaki-style grilled eel, yakitori, and grilled fish. The aroma whets the appetite, and creates a refreshing flavor when combined with oil. It has a stomach-strengthening effect, and is one of the important spices found in shichimi togarashi (a blend of seven spices).

In addition, in some regions, the tree bark is simmered in tsukudani. The wood can be turned into wooden pestles, and as everything can be put to good use, it is said that no part of a sansho tree goes to waste.

Sansho has been used in Japan as a Japanese spice since long ago, and is known abroad as Japanese Pepper. Sansho pairs well too with sweets and oils and fats, so it can be employed, not only in cooking, but also in confectionery including chocolate and gelato, and its spread has been seen in Europe, where cooking with spices is customary.

  • Kabayaki-style grilled eel
  • Chirimen sansho (small dried sardines with sansho)
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